I've just finished reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and what a book it was. For two weeks I've been in and out of Tudor England. During this period (c.1520's - 1530's) Henry VIII was married to Katherine of Aragon and then to Anne Boleyn. The novel centres around the adoption of the Act of Supremacy which made Henry the head of the church in England. Henry wanted his marriage to Katherine (who had been married to Henry's brother Arthur before Arthur died) annulled by the Pope in Rome. Thomas More is a staunch RC and he goes about torturing followers of Luther and anyone who has a copy of the Bible translated into English. In the end More is beheaded because he will not take an oath recognising Henry as the head of the church. The novel is told through the mind of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell's story is gripping.
Apart from all this history and intrigue there are some gorgeous descriptions and really insightful and intuitive passages in the novel. Here are two of my favourite:
There is a world beyond this black world. There is a world of the possible. A world where Anne can be queen is a world where Cromwell can be Cromwell. He sees it; then he doesn't. The moment is fleeting. But insight cannot be taken back. You cannot return to the moment you were in before. (Mantel 2010, p. 205)
There are great pearls which gleam wet from the ocean, sapphires hot as India. There are jewels like the fruit you pick on a country afternoon: garnets like sloes, pink diamonds like rosehips. (Mantel 2010, p. 582-583)
The sequel to this book is called Bring up the Bodies. A further novel in the series The Mirror and the Light is expected next year.